A simple sundial might catch your eye as you walk through Sir Sandford Fleming Park in Halifax. A closer look and you see that it is part of a public art project by David Clark called “Meantime in Greenwich”. Look around and you might see another one close by. Walk further and you’ll likely find more.
There is a particular reason that you’ll find them in this park. This is where Sir Sandford Fleming, the man who shepherded the idea of standard time through to its adoption around the world, lived and died. It is thanks to him that we now have time zones to help us adjust to the changes in the timing of day and night as we travel around the world.
So there are twenty-four of these sundials, twenty-four for the twenty-four time zones around the world. Each of them has a different title and a different theme. Each sundial face has a different picture on it, a different muted image merging into its circular background.
There’s New York Times, bringing together the city of New York (image in the background), the New York Times (the type of its masthead, the journalist’s typewriter, the anonymous face hidden by hood and dark glasses), and the idea of time (the pocket watch).
There’s Hard Time, this pocket watch containing an image of a barred door/gate with its lock, suggesting the barred door of a jail cell. In the background the image suggests rough seas.
There’s Real Time, with its old time television set with the number 24 on its screen and in the background the soft images of lights, action, camera… Incongruously, the 24 looks like the numbers on the screen of a digital clock, linking us again to the idea of time and of the present and of each day’s 24 hours.
There’s Time and Time Again, with white clock hands against a black Hitchcock silhouette within the confines of yet another pocket watch and the snake (or ourobouros) swallowing its own tail, its body circling within the watch frame as our lives are lived within the circling hours. Among other images in the background we can see the words “Outright terror… Bold and Brilliant”.
And of course it ends with Time’s Up, with a satellite within a group of circling objects, a diagram of satellites circling the globe. GPS satellites circling above the earth, using time to figure out where each GPS user on earth is.
There’s more to this set of sundials than meets the eye. As I learned when listening to an interview with David Clark on CBC Radio, this public art installation is meant to be listened to as well as looked at. Meantime in Greenwich has its own website/page, from which you can download twenty-four mp3 files, one for each sundial. None of the files is much longer than two minutes; each one takes what you see and expands on it. They contain an interesting mixture of ideas, stories, historical nuggets, facts about time, and riffs on different ideas and words related to and expanding on the images on the sundials. Characters and ideas recur, tying the spoken pieces together.
The sundials themselves invite you to examine them – the more you look the more you see. The spoken words delve further into the idea behind the installation as a whole, and the particular idea behind each sundial. They tease the thoughts, widen the ideas and invite exploration.
There is another component, but this one, sadly, I cannot comment on. An iPhone app, also downloadable from the website, is designed to allow iPhone users to experience ‘virtual sculptures’ when they point their phone at each sundial. An interesting idea, but one not easily available to those who have other smart phones – or do not have a smart phone at all.
Of course, many who come across the sundials will only see what meets the eye….
Which is interesting enough – but I wish that everyone could enjoy the complete experience.